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The Mind's Eye 

Volume 5 Number 2 


The Mind's Eye is a journal of review and comment 
published four times during the college year 
at North Adams, Massachusetts 01247 

Copyright © 1980 by North Adams State College 

December 1980 


Robert Bishoff 
W. Anthony Gengarelly 
Stephen A. Green 
R. Michael Haines 
Charles Mclsaac 
Ellen Schiff 


Charles Mclsaac 


W. Anthony Gengarelly 

Harris Elder 3 Television Commercials and American Values 

While the dollar cost of television advertising is enormously high, 
the real price is the confusion between images of the world as it is and 
as commercials would have viewers think it is. 


Charles Mclsaac 5 Teacher 


Ellen Schiff 6 Looking o ver the Score: Arthur Miller's Playing for Time 

With some scratches, Miller survives the toughest dramatic challenge 
of our time, the Holocaust. 


Stephen A. Green 2 The Editor's File 

and Charles Mclsaac Moral Majority, Inc. 

Politicized evangelism, joined with the national conservative trend, 
could hobble freedom of thought and inhibit bona fide education. 

The Editor's File 

Moral Majority, Inc. 

Although the Reverend Jerry Falwell has been 
at pains not to take credit for the victory of 
Ronald Reagan, he has nevertheless made the 
point that his politiral organization. Morat Majority, 
Inc., got four million voters to register and stimu- 
lated another ten million to vote. Other evangelical 
organizations did similar work with their members to 
noticeable effect. A New York Times/CBS News poll 
found that 61% of while born-again Christians voted 
for Mr. Reagan as against 34% for Mr. Carter and 4% 
for Mr. Anderson. The born-again group amounted 
to 17% of the voters, a large number that some see as 
only the lip of the iceberg, lor evangelicals — of whom 
there are some 30 million to 65 million — have been 
traditionally apolitical. If this group could be in- 
spired to go to the polls in great numbers, it would 
form a powerful voting bloc. This is precisely the 
object conservative politicans like Howard Phillips 
and Paul Weyrich had in mind when they persuaded 
Jerry Falwell to found Moral Majority two years ago. 

Getting great numbers of evangelicals to exercise 
their franchise is not cause for alarm. Quite the 
opposite. What is disturbing, however, is the nar- 
rowness of the evangelical concept of the good society 
and the mischief that could flow from it. 

So much has been said by and about Jerry Falwell 
in recent days that it is not entirely clear what 
Mr. Falwell stands for. Fortunately, he has published 
a book this year, Listen, America! which sets forth 
his views. He believes that America is at the "brink of 
death," brought there by a vocal minority of irreli- 
gious men and women. And he sees himself in the 
mold of an Old Testament prophet calling America 
back to repentance before it is too late. 

Listen, America! is a preachment burdened with 
oversimplifications and gratuitous assertions. Central 
to its argument is the claim that this nation was 
founded by "godly men upon godly principles to be a 
Christian nation," a theme so frequently repeated in 
various forms as to be a refrain. With [his statement 
Mr. Falwell expansively ignores three hundred years 
of thought which preceded the American Revolution. 
The historical fact is that the American political sys- 
tem was the fruit of the Enlightmeut, that com- 
plex of eighteenth-century intellectual currents 
which had its origin in a procession of European 
philosophers and scientists going as far back as the 
Italian Renaissance humanists of the fifteenth cen- 
tury and coming forward through Bacon, Hobbes, 
Descartes, Locke, Newton, Berkeley, Montesquieu, 
Hume, Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant — the thinkers 
who made the modern world. What the Founding 
Fathers created was not a theocracy on the Puritan 

model but an open society based on reason and the 
ideals of progress and human perfectibility, with a 
government containing checks and balances against, 
human fallibility. 

Religion was on the minds of the framers of the 
constitution as a freedom to be protected but not as 
an institution to be established to lend the state legi- 
timacy. The ancien regime — the traditional or- 
ganization of society in which the church had played 
a prominently controlling role — found no place in 
American polity. When Jerry Falwell cries out for 
America to return to Holy Writ because that is where 
it began, he is wide of the mark. 

But the insistence of Moral Majority cannot be 
easily dismissed, and we own to a certain res- 
tiveness when we consider that the conservative trend 
it represents may yet bring a new era of repressiveness 
to education. Mr. Falwell observes that "until about 
thirty years ago . . . Christian education and the 
precepts of the Bible still permeated the curriculum 
of public schools." These, Falwell says, have been 
replaced by courses reflecting the philosophy of 
humanism, naturalism, and socialism; doctrines 
which in his view are tantamount to crass material- 
ism, atheism, sexual anarchy, and the abandonment 
of the free enterprise system- — "a far cry from what 
our Founding Fathers intended education to be." 
Textbooks are riddled with philosophical error; they 
should be examined by parents and reformed after the 
example of the Christian schools, where "in science 
the student learns God's laws lor the universe; in his- 
tory, God's plan for the ages; and in civics, God's 
requirement of loyalty and support for [he govern- 
ment Fie has ordained." 

What is worrisome about this constricted interpre- 
tation of the ills of society is not the danger that free 
inquiry will be done away with; we trust that the 
intellectual tradition is too firmly rooted for that to 
happen. But what may very well occur is the rise of a 
new McCarthyism to cast a pall over academic free- 
dom. If an extreme brand of conservatism prevails, 
we may see not only a rash of removal of books from 
library shelves but, worse, a sell-censorship of teach- 
ers at all levels of education silenced by the chill of 
social disapproval. Falwell and company may suc- 
ceed in releasing a flood of nostalgia for a mythical 
"pure" America that never was. 

Liberty, the real gift of the Founding Fathers, is 
not to be worn lightly. Nor are the Reverend Jerry 
Falwell's strictures to be tossetl aside as crackpot 
ideas. If nothing else, they are a sobering reminder 
that free societies are outnumbered in this world. 

— Stephen A. Green & Charles Mclsaac 


Are Life Savers "A Part of Living"? 

Television Commercials and American Values 

by Harris Elder 

Ronald McDonald as the Pied Piper leads his 
Flock through the Golden Arches. The Pat 
Boones, exuding sincerity on pasly smooth 
faces, recommend Cleatasil for the eradication of 
unsightly blemishes which undermine teenage sexual 
opportunities. A chic princess brandishes her Jor- 
dache dernere before the camera eye, appealing to the 
Now Generation of assertive women who shape their 
own destinies. In a bright and cheerful classroom, 
prepubescent school children celebrate in dance and 
song that they, too, can share the pleasures of the 
Jordache look with teacher. What do we pay for these 
seemingly innocuous gems of persuasion, television 
commercials? In a recent poll financed, not surpris- 
ingly, by the National Association of Broadcasters, 
the Roper Organization asked people if 
they "agree or disagree that having CQrnmer> 
ctals on TV is a fair price for being able 
lo watch it." Accepting the premise that 
"having commercials" was the only price 
they were paying, 85 per cent of those 
polled agreed, 

There are, unfortunately, additional 
costs. The viewer pays for his receiving 
equipment and the power to operate it. 
Viewers also subsidize television as con- 
sumers of the advertised products. In addition to 
these considerable expenses, they pay heavily for tele- 
vision programming as taxpayers, for the TV commer- 
cial, which is enormously expensive to produce and 
broadcast, usually qualifies as a deductible business 
expense. But television commercials subtly exact a 
much greater fee. Simply because of the sheer numbers 
of them watched — and enjoyed — year after year by 
millions of viewers, the commercial spot has made a 
significant impact on American popular cultural 
values. Indeed, the problem of defining cultural values 
generally may hinge on understanding the role of tel- 
evision commercials in their formation and transmrs- 

the jingles of fast-food chains, cereal, candy, chew- 
ing gum. Their mimesis often influences buying 
decisions as they recite commercial slogans while 
mom tows them along at the supermarket. Nor is 
there evidence that grownups exercise their critical 
facilities in front of the tube, A Roper report notes 
that three-fourths of adult viewers usually find com- 
mercials "fun lo watch," None of this should be sur- 
prising, however, since commercials tend to be the 
most recurrent — and remembered — element in the 
programming day. 

A Federal Trade Commission decision identifying 
child audiences as "unqualified" to evaluate televi- 
sion commercial advertising is not to be taken as a 
stamp of approval on their elders' perspicacity. In an 
effort to improve its public image. ITT 
produced a series of children's programs 
in 1974 and 1975 titled The Big Blue 
Marble to "promote international un- 
derstanding." The company simultan- 
eously ran a series of prime-time commer- 
cials which publicized The Big Blue 
Marble, all featuring the slogan "The 
Best Ideas Are Ideas that Help People." 
The tost of showing the commercials 
was double the $4 million it took to 
produce the film series, which was provided free to 
television stations — a contrast in expenditures which 
suggests that the ostensible message of The Big Blue 
Marble was secondary to ITT's need for a pretext for 
its public relations effort. Atid sure enough, a study 
financed by the corporation found that the ITT "cares 
about the general public" rating doubled in the twelve- 
month period during which the commercials were 
aired. Although most adults are confident about their 
immunity to gently phrased suggestions such as the 
ones used by I T T, they would appear no less vulner- 
able to the dazzle of the commercial message than 

Estimates of the size and habits of the television 
audience suggest the crucial role played by the 
commercial. From kindergarten through the high 
school years most children are exposed to approxi- 
mately 12,000 classroom hours. During the same for- 
mative years they may watch as many as 24,00(1 hours 
of television. A child's vocabulary development is 
strongly influenced by catch words and phrases used 
in commercials; children can often be heard singing 

Nor only do they appear with stupefying fre- 
quency, hut commercials surpass most other 
television programming with lustrously varnished 
productions which compel the attention of the aver- 
age viewer. A business textbook, The Television 
Commercial: Creativity and Craftsmanship, heralds 
the commercial as "an American art form . . . ahead of 
most TV programs in being in tune with the United 
Stales." TV commercials even enjoy institutional rec- 
ognition for their aesthetic and persuasive merits. 


Out of the 40,000 commercials produced during a 
typical year, tidy are honored with Clio Awards — 
named, perhaps ironically, for the muse of history — 
at the annual American TV Commercials Festival. 

The huge cost of producing commercials also re- 
flects their central role in television programming 
and in the buying habits of American consumers. 
The budget for a single 30-second spot may run as 
high as $200,000. If feature films were produced on 
this scale, a two-hour movie would cost S48 million, 
a figure rivaling even a Star Wars budget. And the 
production costs are only a beginning. The showing 
of a 30-second commercial in prime time may cost 
the sponsor as much as $100,000. Since most com- 
mercials are broadcast many times, often simultan- 
eously on three networks, the message may entail 
multimillion-dollar stakes. Yet so great are the pro- 
fits generated by television commercials that sponsors 
clamor for advertising minutes armed with bids 
which inflate the price of air time to levels incom- 
prehensible to the average viewer. Technology, how- 
ever, may be used in the near future to alleviate this 
financial burden. A recent issue of the trade publica- 
tion Video Systems examined the advantages of "time 
compression," a process that allows audio and video 
to be played back faster than the rate at which they 
were originally recorded, without perceptible distor- 
tions. The author glowingly reported (hat time com- 
pression could "make commercials even more effec- 
tive as sales tools by enabling the 
advertiser to pack a denser message 
into the same amount of time" and 
would "eliminate several minutes 
from the shows to allow for the 
extra commercials." 

Wh at accounts for the cost effective- 
ness of these miniature slices 
of life? The television commercial 
employs a highly compressed audiovisual language 
which draws upon the resources of other advertising 
media and multiplies their effectiveness. From the 
page it uses pictures and print; on the sound track it 
communicates through the spoken word, which can 
be voice-over or dramatized but is usually both; 
natural sounds and music further enhance the tone 
and impact of the message. In addition, the TV 
commercial enjoys the advantage of movement in 
capturing the viewer's interest in a theater of threat 

Harris Elder, Assistant Professor of English, has 
taught courses in film and television and has served 
as a research 'production assistant for Will Rogers' 
1920s: A Cowboy Guide to the Times (1977), a compil- 
ation film funded by the National Endowment for 
the Humanities. 

and promise. And not only do camera, people, and 
products move, these audio and visual components 
are also skillfully manipulated into a pattern of the- 
matic juxtapositions, insuring that not one second of 
air time is wasted. Grandma is not simply embarrassed 
by loose dentures; her grandchildren recoil at her 
affront with the sights and sounds of innocent disgust. 
Comes Fix-a-Dent to the rescue, providing a remedy 
while it also cheers up the lighting and brightens the 
music on (he sound track, And just in case someone 
has missed the point, a narrator reminds us thai the 
product now seen in close-up is not only responsible 
for this miracle of applied science but it also available 
at belter stores everywhere. Grandma's problem is 
identified and solved in a gratifying montage of 
deftly edited shots, leaving the viewer no oppor- 
tunity — or desire — for question or review. It is little 
wonder that the television commercial serves the per- 
suasive needs of its sponsors more readily than other 
advertising: from each of them it culls the most 
useful rhetorical strategies and combines them into a 
tapestry of images more real than life. 

An irony of truth-in-advertising legislation is that 
the requirement to demonstrate the validity of 
claims encourages sponsors to avoid substantive 
claims. It is safer and ultimately more persuasive to 
disarm the viewer with a humorous approach, one 
which makes the commercial pitch seem like no more 
than a bit of innocent fun. Thus a 
vacationing American couple relax 
in a Japanese bath only to be sur- 
prised by a Japanese businessman 
in the same pool who embarrasses 
them with his undress while he ex- 
tols the virtues of Citicorp Traveler's 
Checks, In their well-appointed liv- 
ing room Mariette Hartley and James 
Garner cozily exchange jokes about 
amateur photography — but the real business of selling 
Polaroid cameras goes on at a stratum of communi- 
cation beneath the surface. Wouldn't only someone 
with a sour personality object to the playlul tone of 
these engaging vignettes? 

On the one hand, industry spokesmen energetically 
argue that television influences buying habits, fash- 
ions, and political choices; they can, of course, be 
expected to speak in such terms if (heir network is to 
command top dollar for commercial time. On the 
other hand, they deny with equal vigor that the 
messages coming through the tube play a part in the 
way we make a range of other decisions. In the 
typical TV commercial formula, the viewer is shown 
a problem and treated to a quick and easy solution — 
which not accidentally hinges on the purchase and 
consumption of a product. Scope mouthwash im- 
proves one's social life, Yamaha motorcycles cure 


midsummer ennui, and Alka-Seltzer functions as a 
dating service, uniting lonely singles on the basis of 
shared gastronomical problems. These minidramas 
of problem and solution carry over to other pro- 
gramming as well. Not only must the hour-long 
drama restructure life within its allocated lime slot, it 
must accommodate periodic commercial breaks. To 
capture and hold the viewer's attention, to keep his 
fickle hand off the dial, to make him apprehensive 
enough to heed the commercial message, programs 
are structured according to a series of climaxes 
reached in median res. Left in a state of tension and 
uncertainty, the viewer gets slipped a commercial 
mickey which by its positioning carries the aura of a 
solution, lulls him into a false sense of security. If 
only life's problems could be so easily gargled away. 

Gene Youngbi.ood writes in Expanded Cinema 
that "we literally live and breathe in a 'medi- 
atmosphere,' and we have accepted nonchalantly this 
phenomenon without really perceiving it because it 
is part of our environment." As the accumulated 
messages of thousands of television commercials 
blend into the audiovisual landscape, our perception 
of how we should live is affected in an almost insidi- 
ous way through the construction of a national value 
system. Although this technological leviathan does 
not explicitly articulate these values, viewers tend to 
accept the authority of the persistently glowing 
screen as a reflection of the world as it is and should 
be, as the voice of how we can achieve what is impor- 
tant and desirable. 

Perhaps Edith Bunker best captured the essence of 
the relationship between television commercials and 
American values in an early episode of All in the 
Family. Daughter Gloria had been describing the 
emotional problems besetting one of her friends. 
With a look of concern, Edith wondered if the ex- 
perience was "as bad as the 'heartbreak of psor- 
iasis,' !! a slogan used in Tegrin Shampoo commer- 
cials. No reasonable person would argue that life can 
be reduced to easy phrases (no one argues in prime 
time that it cannot) but with accumulated hours of 
slogans the composite message is subtly implanted in 
the viewer's mind. And since many problems are only 
partly solvable, it is all too easy to slide into the 
commercial jingle for an answer. Will Stove Top 
Stuffing reunite a lethargic family at the dinner 
table? Does ring-around-the-collar pose a major 
threat to otherwise happy marriages? Will drinking 
Pepsi-Cola transport freezing New Englanders to sun- 
ny California beaches where they will join members 
of the surfing generation? Can Geritol sweep away 
the uncertainties of a midlife crisis? Are Life Savers 
"a part of living"? While the ostensible messages of 
these commercials do not overtly advance these kinds 
of propositions, the underlying equation of product 


by Charles Mclsaac 

To be a teacher 
is every day to risk 

the challenge of a child's imagination 

and follow him into unknown country, 

the w r hile you fear 

not coming out alive, 

for you might, kill yourself dead 

by blunting his quest 

with grownup ignorance. 

consumption and happiness lurks beneath the glitter- 
ing surface, barely noticed on the conscious level. 
Alter all. aren't these commercials designed to sell 
products, not a way of life? 

The catch is that the sponsor must do both if he is 
to prosper in the competitive arena of the public air- 
ways. Rapid growth in mass production over the past 
century has made advertising more crucial to busi- 
ness success. An increasing saturation of the mar- 
ketplace by goods and services has necessitated the 
manufacture of new demand for new products. As the 
most efficient vehicle for reaching the masses, televi- 
sion commercials, in the tradition of other advertis- 
ing media, have successfully addressed a problem 
which seems endemic to technological society. The 
more products that have been sold, the tougher it is 
to increase consumption to make room for additional 
new products so that consumption can increase, and 
so on and on. Solution? Peddle the unneeded as 
necessities using emotional, value-oriented persua- 
sion. Since it is not often feasible to sell products 
directly, then sell a way of life predicated on the con- 
sumption of products. When Jamie's parents re- 
commend Luv disposable diapers, the commercial 
succeeds less because of the product's form-fitting, 
leakproof design than because or the homey family 
atmosphere permeating the scene. While there's obvi- 
ously nothing wrong with showing the family in a 
positive light, one would be hard pressed to demon- 
strate that Luv diapers promote marital harmony. 
Television did not create the consumption ethic, how- 
ever; TV simply serves as the latest — and by far the 
most pervasive— mouthpiece of the American Dream. 

One major component of the dream is free choice 
in politics. As the drama of the Republican and 
Democratic National Conventions unfolded, some- 
what slowly, on television this summer, much atten- 
tion focused on parly platforms. What stand would 
each party take on the Equal Rights Amendment, 


inflation, unemployment, abortion? The hoopla over 
these issues may have obscured a third platform, the 
corporate one, which was curiously identical for each 
political party. We were told that if the arts are flour- 
ishing in America, some of the thanks for their 
financial support should go to Ma Bell. If technology 
can rescue America from its past folly in energy and 
ecology, a beautifully animated commercial in a style 
reminiscent of 1930s mural art tells us that the bene- 
ficent Sinclair Oil Corporation has reached into its 
roots in the American pioneer tradition to avert yet 
another threat to the environment and to future sup- 
plies of energy. 

These messages were not intended to inspire con- 
sumers to install additional telephones or buy more 

gasoline. Corporations need to shape their public 
image just as politicians do. Along with the more 
mundane ads for deodorant and beer, these corpora- 
tions penetrated and assumed a role in the American 
political process. An executive in a major oil com- 
pany remarked to me that there was nothing at all 
improper about this corporate strategy, they were 
"just acting like politicians." The rub is that they are 
neither politicians nor a legitimate part of the politi- 
cal process at the convention. But just as consumers 
are encouraged to perceive products as "a part of liv- 
ing," so does this corporate image become a new 
operative reality — and dangers lurk there of a further 
distortion of values which we many now only dimly 

Ellen Schiff on Television Drama 

Looking over the Score: A Review of Arthur Miller's Playing for Time 

Arthur Miller's Playing for Time, telecast b^ 
CBS during three hours of prime time on 
September 30, arrives among the recent en- 
tries in the now impressive body of Holocaust drama. 
Playing for Time is not Miller's first work on this 
subject. This TV dramatization of the memoirs of 
Fania Fe'nelon, French nightclub singer and Ausch- 
witz survivor, bears striking resemblances to Miller's 
1 964 stage play Incident al Vichy, which he based on 
an actual episode of deliberately switched identities. 
Without reading Fehelon's book, it is impossible to 
knoiv if the playwright's imagination invented as 
freely here as it did in the earlier script. Less prob- 
lematic and, for this reviewer, far more consequential 
is Miller's incisive delineation in both works of some 
of the psychological phenomena invariably attested 
to by those who try to describe their experiences dur- 
ing that accursed era. There is an unmistakable ring 
of authenticity to Miller's depiction of the guilt, the 
self-reproach, the relentlessness of fear, and the cap- 
itulation of abstract nobility to the brute necessity of 
living each hour wisely. Perhaps most insidious of 
all, there is the crisis of identity — the genuine shock 
fell by innumerable Jews, most especially the na- 
tionalistic, the long assimilated, and the indifferent, 
suddenly forced to regard themselves exclusively as 
Jews and hence (that such "logic" could be regarded 
as apodiclic remains a bewilderment) as dispensable 

Ellen Schiff, Professor of French and Comparative 
Literature, is a student of contemporary drama as 
well as of the literature of the Holocaust. 

The measure of Miller's fidelity to psychological 
truth is the first of two factors which insure the 
considerable success of Playing for Time. The second 
is the focus he adopts for viewing historical truth. 
Almost four decades of Holocaust art have demon- 
strated that the only way to approach this colossal 
and grotesque subject is on the oblique. Straight- 
forward attempts at graphic recreation inevitably fail. 
Art is utterly incompatible with such staggering ht- 
eralness. It is hardly surprising then that the least 
successful scenes in Playing for Time are precisely 
those which try for direct representation: the chim- 
neys belching human smoke, the furiously burning 
fires, the mob scenes in the train bound for the t amp. 

Fortunately, these pitifully contrived scenes are 
counterbalanced by others which work splen- 
didly by virtue of a suggestiveness that lures the 
vrewer to synthesize what he is seeing with what he 
already knows. For example, one of the most poign- 
ant sequences in Playing for Time occurs just after 
Fania's arrival at Auschwitz, when she and some of 
the other new arrivals are stripped and shorn. The 
unremitting efficiency with which they are humil- 
iated and depersonalized serves to underscore the 
finality of their imprisonment. But this scene simul- 
taneously accomplishes much more, it jolts to mem- 
ory those well-popularized photos of the incredible 
masses of human hair stockpiled by the Nazis. As 
spectators, we are drawn into the drama, aware that 
the shaved, tormented women we see before us are 
two among millions, alert to the fate we know r they 
face. And yet, quite improbably, the shearing scene 


has a certain heartbreaking and ghastly beauty. The 
curls and braids cascading to the floor do nothing to 
muffle the persistent clashing of scissors or to mute 
the unmistakable sound of torture nearby. Most 
touching, the entire sequence is played out in dap- 
pled sunlight that streams through the windows. It is 
the last sunlight we see, but hardly the last windows. 

The window offers an especially effective optic for 
the portrayal of camp life. Episode after episode 
taking place within the barracks used by the female 
orchestra is shot against a window, permitting the 
viewer some perception of what is simultaneously 
going on outside. The fleeting images of slave labor 
details, of trucks with their human freight, of prison- 
ers quite literally being herded to fresh or final miser- 
ies combine with the audio background of guttural 
commands, gun butts striking human flesh, and 
screams arid sobbing. Because the overwhelming 
sights and sounds of Auschwitz are introduced in this 
subtle way, the viewer is led to understand that the 
choice made by the female musicians who 
agree to play for the barbarians is their only 
alternative, however fragile, to being swal- 
lowed immediately by the world just outside 
the window. That degree of comprehension 
is no mean achievement lot Ptaytng for 
Time. One of the (homiest problems encoun- 
tered both by survivors who would describe 
the deportations and the ensuing horrors 
and by those who would understand them is 
the outrageous improbability of many kinds 
of human behavior which, once removed ($% 
from the context of I'univers coneentralion- 
nam, become all but incomprehensible, The 
window's in Miller's play furnish a perspective essen- 
tial to apprehending the thing in situ. 

The same windows serve admirably in the charac- 
terizations. Not all the women inside the barracks see 
the same thing when they look out. At one extreme is 
the fierce little Zionist in whose mind Auschwitz has 
been transformed to a desert on the way to the 
Promised Land. Fania faults her for remaining de- 
tached and too pure, an accusation whose accuracy 
reveals almost as much about Fania as about the 
Zionist. A woman who professes no ideology, who 
says, "I have no answers. I am living front minute to 
minute," Fania is incapable of understanding that 
the woman whose entire existence is now devoted to 
anticipating a Jewish life in a Jewish land finds 
therein the strength to endure Auschwitz. Indeed, one 
of the most meticulously fabricated defense mecha- 
nisms worked out by concentration camp internees 
involved their becoming the psychological inhabi- 
tants of a land beyond their physical reach. 

A VERY different attitude toward the prospects seen 
from the window is that of Alma Rose', niece of 

Gustave Mahler and martinet conductor of the Ausch- 
witz female orchestra. Alma does not fail to see out 
the window; she refuses to see, and counsels Fania to 
follow her example. "In this place," Alma explains, 
"you will have to concentrate on creating all the 
beauty you are capable of creating." This line of 
reasoning allows Alma to lead the orchestra in a 
humorous Jewish folk song calculated to calm pris- 
oners during the initial selections for the gas, to 
select music designed to appeal to the camp chief- 
tains, including the infamous Dr. Mengele, and to 
browbeat iier inmate instrumentalists into achieving 
her standards of excellence. What almost saves Alma 
is her unshakable self-esteem. It is the very naivete' of 
her belief that genuine regard for artists still exists 
that finally dooms her. Jane Alexander is magnifi- 
cent in the role of this Viennese musician who never 
recovers from the astonishment oi being called to 
account for her Jewish identity. 

Fania does not heed Alma's advice to ignore the 
window'. She looks out often, and she is 
revolted. Once as she turns away, horrified 
at having witnessed children being torn from 
their mothers, she is eluded by a fellow 
inmate. Me tells her she must look and see 
everything, "so you can tell them when it's 
over." Fania protests, "But I don't believe. 
Why do you pick me?" The prisoner, a 
quasi-mystical character, responds that he 
can always lell who's going to live, Indeed, 
it takes no great perception to see from the 
first that Fania Kehelon, especially as played 
by the regal Vanessa Redgrave, is special. 
She is a glamorous and accomplished artiste, 
whose charm and generosity of spirit make her a 
natural leader. However, while these attributes go far 
to endear her to her fellow inmates and. of course, to 
television audiences conditioned to expect the best 
from the tallest and most beautiful, they do nothing 
to explain how Fania Fe'nclnit survived Auschwitz. 
Even Redgrave's vigorous and nuamed performance 
fails to fill in the obvious gaps One of the prisoners 
remarks that Fania has no identity, and that seems a 
fair summary of what the play says about her. In the 
hair-shearing scene Fania objects to a Nazi that she's 
not Jew crap, she's French. Shortly after being liber- 
ated, Fania is, improbably, interviewed by the press 
and, in a cracked voice, sings a few triumphant bars 
of "La Marseillaise." Yet, in between, she does not 
stay afloat by holding fast to her French identity as, 
say, Alma does to hers as artist. Curiously, when the 
monstrous Dr. Mengele compliments her on her sing- 
ing, Fehelon, choked with the offensiveness of the 
circumstances, impetuously blurts out that her name 
is not really Fe'nelon, but Goldstein. However, later, 
she furiously retorts to a fellow inmate's scolding, 
"I'm sick of the Jews and the Gentiles, the easterners 


and i he westerners, the Germans and the French'. I'm 
a woman, not a tribe, and I've been humiliated. 
That's all I know." 

yt Fania Fenei.on had any special talent that s(ood 
A her in good stead at Auschwitz, ii was perhaps her 
unyielding pragmatism. She understood the hope- 
lessness of the entire situation, and her lack of illu- 
sions convinced her of the need to live from minute 
to minute. But the play attributes to her a degree of 
lucidity about the implications of the Holocaust as 
she is still in the very thick of it that is very difficult 
to credit. No matter, the device permits 
the playwright to put in Fania's mouth 
some wonderful lines, like her compas- 
sion (or another prisoner who believes 
herself totally innocent ("After the war, 
she'll have nobody to talk to in all 
F.urope") and her observation about 
the Nazi commandant of the women 
prisoners ("What disgusts me is that a 
woman who is beautiful can be doing 
such things. We're of the same species. 
That's exactly what's so hopeless about 
the whole thing."). 

The persona ol Fania Fe'nelon emer- 
ges from Playing for Time bigger and 
emptier than life in a way this viewer 
tends to associate with television in gen- 
eral. Playing for Time works well as long as it 
operates within the constraints imposed by its medi- 
um. Large-scale scenes can be suggested effectively, as 
we have seen, when the television screen itself func- 
tions as a window on a larger world. But, at the other 
end of the scale, subtleties and innuendoes do not 
televise well — at least in this production. In short, 
this reviewer suspects there is more to Fania Fe'nelon 
than met her eye. 

In addition to the essence of the heroine, the play 
leaves unexplained and unintegrated other no doubt 
relevant material. For instance, exactly what are we 
to make of Fania's entertaining the Auschwitz top 
command, at one of the most exalted moments in the 
play, with Puccini's "Un Bel Di"? Why is the aria 
sung in English, since certainly both the Nazis, who 
ostensible requested it, and Fania, who performs it. 
would know it in the original? Is the translation used 
to be certain that American audiences will under- 
stand the words? All right then, what is one to make 
of the patent references in the aria to the heroine's 

Stephen A, Green, Chairman of the Department of 
Sociology and Anthropology, is et member of the 
editorial board of The Mind's Eye. 

The drawings in this issue are by Susan Morris of 
East Dover, Vermont. 

redemption by the American military? The obvious 
conclusion — that the Nazis are somehow unaware of 
the ironies of Cio Cio San's song — does not jibe at all 
with the sincere conviction with which they tell 
Fania that her singing "is a consolation that feeds the 
spirit [and] strengthens us for this difficult work of 

Occasionally, the achievement of producer Linda 
Yellin (whose parents survived the Holocaust), 
director Daniel Mann, and cinematographer Arthur 
Ornitz far exceeds the script. There are some egre- 
gious errors in the playwright's judg- 
ment. A few r scenes are so woodenly 
contrived that they trivialize the ac- 
count and seriously undermine its auth- 
ority as a real survivor's memoir. Many 
of these are barracks scenes where the 
women's behavior is far more appro- 
priate to a sorority slumber party than 
to a concentration camp, fn the worst 
of these, there is actually a son gf est 
around a piano, complete with "Stormy 
Weather" (how inadvertently mocking 
the lyric "Don't know why there's no 

sun up in the sky "!). What makes 

these episodes even mote objectionable 
is that they unnecessarily lengthen a 
script that instead needs judicious pruning — it could 
easily tell (he burden of its tale in two hours instead 
of three. 

However, even with reservations, this writer hails 
Playing for Time as an event of consequence. Its 
importance is undiminished by the ugly contradic- 
tion between Redgrave's political convic- 
tions and the rote she played. That controversy ran, 
of course, be argued with earnest conviction, but only 
at the expense of distracting from the issue at hand — 
the responsible dramatization of an event at Ausch- 
witz. Similarly, the importance of the program offsets 
the obvious shortcomings inherent in mounting this 
kind of play not only on television, but on commer- 
cial television to boot. Having seen again and again 
the show's title frame in which two pairs of hands are 
clasped, with the tattooed concentration camp num- 
bers on one forearm conspicuously displayed, the 
viewer can only be bemused to learn in the commer- 
cial intervals ol a cosmetic cream which will erase 
skin markings, like freckles and age spots. 

What is most significant aooui the telecast Playing 
for Time is the evidence it provides that American 
artists and American audiences are trying to fathom 
that awesome phenomenon known as Auschwitz. Play- 
ing for Time is an eloquent statement of the convic- 
tion that, as another Arthur Miller character once put 
it, "Attention, attention must finally be paid."